After reading and commenting on a featured post, Have we reached the REALTOR® Tipping Point? , I got to thinking about how things get sold. Some would argue that there is a fundamental difference between product and salesperson inherent in the three categories, but there are also similarities.
Cars, real estate and insurance all represent significant financial commitments by most consumers, and they all involve a fairly high level of consumer stress. One similarity is that they are purchases that are not familiar to consumers -- they don't by them every day, week, month, or probably even not every year. That makes most consumers a little in need of guidance from someone they hope they can trust. It is also often the case that consumers have a small bucket of pertinent knowledge that they think is a big bucket.
Car dealers have moved to a one price format where the offered price is their final price. Many consumers feel needs are better suited to this one price system. They are happy to know that everyone will pay the same amount for the same vehicle, no matter who they are, and often even which dealership they choose. Now, I'm not really sure about the one price system because I never ended up paying more than the dealer's original asking price, and now I never pay less.
Auto dealers have a computer network that allows them to all charge the same amount for the same model car. It looks like something that would be illegal in other businesses, but it's apparently not. Car salespeople no longer need to negotiate with customers, just talk nice to them and write up the order. Could a similar business model work for real estate? Perhaps.
Insurance is frequently sold through mass media, whether web or television. With Flo, the "Name your price" waitress, you are instructed to go on line and choose how much you want to pay -- you will even get a discount for going on line and not using an agent! How appealing. Of course, when your house gets washed down the river in a flood and you learn that homeowners insurance is not flood insurance, well sorry. An insurance agent may have told you about that, but all you got was an electronic waitress. Maybe that's all you needed, and maybe not.
Real estate transactions could be automated with a one price system. If laws were changed to require a detailed appraisal of every property offered for sale and required submission to a database, a market price could be established, and any prospective buyer could take it or leave it. Scheduled specific price reductions could be effected over specific number of days on market. The real estate salesperson would have little to do other than talk nice to buyer/seller, and maybe write up the order. NAR could hire Flo, or maybe Phil Dunphey (on the payroll already) to encourage all buyers and sellers to go online and buy/sell. "name your place." Will this happen? Well, it depends on how interested the major players are in automating their business. Will it be good for consumers? Probably not, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.